Embellished: new vintage by Karen Nicoll


Occasionally I recommend a book on this blog.  There are so many new craft and design books that it is hard to know what’s worth money and what isn’t because initially they all look so tempting.  I think I might have passed over this one if I hadn’t read a review somewhere, which would have been a shame.  It is one of those books which could have been written for me,  and so if you are reading this blog because you like my work, it could possibly also have been written for you.

It’s by Karen Nicol who is an embroiderer who works in the fashion industry.  Essentially she shows how she takes a variety of traditional techniques and updates them for high fashion.  It’s a sumptuous picture book which then has a very short piece on how she achieved the effects.  It really isn’t for beginners as those explanations are basic to say the least, but it is so visually stunning that it is irresistible:



I got mine from boring old Amazon, but I dissever from her website that you can get an autographed copy which would be much more exciting.   Her website also has a lot of the images from the book if you don’t want to buy it.

There are some great inspirational quotations in the introduction.  Inacio Ribeiro, who is one of her clients and half of Clements Ribiero, for example writes:

I think every true artist has a journey to undertake, a learning curve in the process of mastering his or her craft.  The journey moves from embracing the beautiful to finding a personal vocabulary beyond it, something fresh and relevant that reflects one’s inner workings as well as one’s times.  (p. 6)

The journey metaphor is definitely wearing a little thin, but I like the idea of moving beyond producing lovely things to finding  your own style, and then using them to say something about the world.  I also love Nicol’s description of being really caught up in a project:

I find returning to my own studio at such times unbelievably exciting, arms full of base cloths to work on and scraps of colour pinned to sheets of paper.  My brain fizzes with ideas and suddenly all of the previously irrelevant and obscure visual messages and technical ideas that have been unconsciously stored begin to slot into place and a gloriously feverish time of working ensures.  (p. 14)

I think that’s a wonderful description of the embodied quality of creativity, when it just won’t leave you alone and it does feel like a fever.

Finally, I love the way that some of the jewellery is photographed on men:


It is a sumptuous book and I think it might really help me over a bit of a block I am having at the moment.  Playing with her chosen techniques: tufting, sewn strips, fagotting and so on might give me the shove I need to get going again.

All I need now is a bit of spare time and a cup of tea to read it a bit more slowly and let ideas start to form.  Which will probably be just after Christmas.

3 thoughts on “Embellished: new vintage by Karen Nicoll

  1. I just got really excited when I read that Karen Nicola will have an exhibition at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in November. But then I saw that it was in New York!

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